Effect of write-down on bank balance sheet

July 27th, 2008

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On Friday, National Australia Bank reported a $830 million write-down on their assets. As this news article, More NAB bad debt revealed reported,

National Australia Bank’s senior management has been castigated by banking analysts after the bank released a fresh $830 million writedown of its investments in US housing mortgages.

The stock market reacted by plunging 3.5% at the time of writing. Will there be more? We will leave it to the mainstream media chatter to talk about it. Meanwhile, we will show you how a write down will affect the bank’s balance sheet. For this, we continue a simplified bank balance sheet from Introduction to banking corporate accounting:

Asset: $98.50 (Loans), $10.50 (Cash)
Liabilities: $105 (Deposits)
Equity: $4

Let’s say 2% of a bank’s non-performing assets is being written down. That means $1.97 of the asset will be gone. In that case, the asset part will look like this:

Asset: $96.53 (Loans), $10.50 (Cash)

But what about the liabilities and equity side of the balance sheet? The liabilities side remains intact because they represent the saver’s deposit. Therefore, it will be the equity side that gets deducted:

Equity: $2.03

The balance sheet now looks like this:

Asset: $96.53 (Loans), $10.50 (Cash)
Liabilities: $105 (Deposits)
Equity: $2.03

In one write-down the bank’s capital ratio gets reduced to 2.03/96.53 = 2.10%. It’s reserve ratio is still 10%. Will it get into trouble? As we explained before in Banking for dummies,

At its very core, a bank borrows money at lower interest rates and lends them out at higher interest rates. Its borrowings are its liabilities while its lendings are its assets. When you deposit your money into the bank, your money is the bank?s liability but your asset. In accounting technicalities, your money goes into the bank?s balance sheet as an asset with a corresponding liability.

Let’s say the bank pays 9.5% interest rates to its depositors (liabilities) and receives 10% interest rates from its loans (assets)- assuming interests-only payments. That means it will have to pay $105 * 9.5% = $9.975 to its depositors and receives $9.653 from its loans. In this case, the bank is in trouble.

Or let’s say banking regulations says that the capital ratio cannot go below 4%. Currently, it is at 2.10%, which means it is in trouble. It has to either sell its assets or raise cash (via equity raising) to bring the ratio up again.

No matter what, the bank’s profit will fall.

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